Not just for show: identity, engagement, and work integrated learning through design graduation exhibitions

Caelli Jo Brooker (University of Newcastle), Michelle Catanzaro (Western Sydney University), Bettina Hodgson (University of Newcastle), Ralph Kenke (University of Newcastle), Carl Morgan (University of Newcastle), and Katrina Sandbach (Western Sydney University)
2019 Conference

The end of year ‘grad show’ is a significant milestone in visual communication degrees in Australia. Graduate exhibitions are a celebration of the university experience, an important landmark on the student journey, and represent the culmination of a creative degree. As an outcome, grad shows enable students to learn from, contribute to and profile themselves and their peers through exhibition practice, and as a platform, they showcase the cultural and creative diversity of student achievement in design. In capturing the attention of preferred industry guests and future employers, the grad show’s identity also extends beyond the student cohort to reflect the calibre of the work and teaching embedded within each design degree program.

The motivation for this reflective paper comes from shared staff experience in facilitating grad shows across multiple institutions. We have become increasingly aware of reframing the role these exhibitions play in contributing to work-integrated and situated learning through connecting our student’s existing knowledge with active, authentic, contextual learning. Their conceptualisation, development and delivery play a significant role in bridging the participant identity from ‘student’ to ‘professional’; scaffolding professional confidence and the application of existing skills to real-world tasks and problems. In this paper, we will discuss insights gleaned from examining the grad show process at two institutions – The University of Newcastle and Western Sydney University. In doing so, we will critically reflect on our teaching approaches and outcomes as responsive structures for positioning graduate exhibitions as sites of active engagement and learning.

N.B. work integrated learning will be shortened to WIL where appropriate.